Sex shouldn’t hurt (unless you want it to). While painful sex may be a common problem, it’s not one that you have to just put up with it. If you’re experiencing painful sex, don’t just push through it.
We’ve got tips and support, including the causes of painful intercourse and what you can do about it, to help make sex far more comfortable. Life is short — have as much fulfilling sex as possible.
What Causes Painful Sex (Dyspareunia) in Women?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), at some point, as many as three in every four vagina owners will experience painful sex. Although there are many reasons you may experience pain (from hormonal changes like estrogen levels to a size difference between your partner’s penis and your vagina), the vast majority of these issues come down to the same fundamental problem — vaginal dryness or a lack of vaginal lubrication.
We can’t understate the importance of lubrication. Without it, sex isn’t just painful; it can also be potentially dangerous. The natural lubricant made by the vagina is its way of protecting you during intercourse, but it doesn’t always make enough supply for the demand.
Menopausal changes (which can start in your mid to late 30s) can impact your body’s ability to keep up, as can certain medications like birth control or your emotional state. However, that’s not the only cause of painful sex. Other medical issues, like endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and uterine fibroids, can also trigger physical problems while you’re trying to get it on.
Certain skin disorders, genital infections (like urinary tract infections, yeast infections, sexually transmitted infections or STIs like herpes or chlamydia), and physical trauma or sexual abuse can also get in the way of enjoying sex the way you deserve.
Unfortunately, many of us tend to put our health on the back burner, especially our mental or sexual health issues. We’re here to remind you that you should never feel like your concerns aren’t valid.
You are just as worthy of care and consideration as everyone else. Prioritizing yourself doesn’t make you selfish!
What Does Pain During Sex Feel Like?
Like other types of pain, painful sex is experienced differently by everyone. Your pelvic pain experience is related to many factors — pain tolerance, what is causing the sexual pain, and where in your body the pain is. Finding the cause of pain starts by identifying where and how you’re feeling that pain so you can learn what to do about it.
One of the most common types of pain people experience during sexual intercourse is entry pain — pain that occurs with the initial penetration of the vagina. People often describe entry pain as “burning” or “sharp.”
Entry pain is often directly tied to a lack of natural lubrication, although other issues like trauma, infection, or congenital differences can also play a part. Entry pain can be felt at the vaginal opening, the vulva, or the labia.
The other common type of pain during sex is deep pain, which you may feel inside your body around your lower abdomen. Deep pain is usually worse in certain positions, and people typically describe it as “achy” or “throbbing.”
People with deep pain are more likely to experience other gynecological or GI issues. Deeper pain is usually felt at the cervix or deeper in the canal as the vaginal wall tightens — this can feel similar to menstrual cramping during penetration.
The body and mind are fascinatingly interconnected. For some people, especially those with a history of sexual trauma, the pain felt during sex can come from a psychological place.
Trauma can trigger a medical condition known as vaginismus, where the vaginal muscles unconsciously squeeze during sex. In a sense, this is your body’s way of protecting you from further trauma, even if you cognitively know you are safe.
Tips and Support for Dealing With Painful Sex
We’ve got your back — don’t let painful sex mess with your sex life any longer. Utilize the following tips to help deal with any issues causing it and start making sex comfortable and pleasurable again.
One of the best ways to counteract painful sex is by using a personal lubricant. Although it would be nice if our bodies always produced enough lube to keep sex comfortable, that isn’t the case for many of us.
There’s no shame in using lube, especially if it lets you enjoy sex again! Just make sure to choose a lubricant that fits your needs and works best for your body, and stay away from anything that has artificial flavoring or dye, parabens, alcohol, or glycerin.
Find Low-Stress Time for Sex
In addition to using lube, it can be massively helpful to take the pressure off your sex life. While a quickie can be hot sometimes, it’s not exactly conducive to being able to let go and get in the right headspace for full arousal.
Without a time frame or pressure, you can relax, enjoy yourself, and let your mind and body work together to let you enjoy yourself fully. You’ll also be far more likely to reach orgasm, even without vaginal penetration.
Communicate With Your Partner
If it hurts when you have sex, don’t suffer in silence. Sucking it up and letting your partner have sex with you if you’re not in the mood doesn’t do either of you any favors.
Communicating with your partner lets you brainstorm together so that sex can be just as satisfying for both of you. Try different positions, utilize more foreplay and external stimulation, or even stop and take a break when you need to — healthy communication is the key to a healthy sex life and, even more importantly, a healthy relationship.
The opposite is also true. It is a massive red flag if your partner doesn’t listen to you when you tell them something hurts or you don’t feel safe talking to them — no more red flags.
Try Sexual Activities That Don’t Cause Pain
Your sex life doesn’t have to center on traditional intercourse alone. Mixing it up is the key to keeping your sex life fresh and fun, so focusing on other types of sexual activity that don’t cause pain can be hugely helpful.
Spend time making out like you’re teenagers, or explore each other with just your hands or your mouths. You can also try using a vibrator on the clitoris, without penetration, either by yourself or with your partner.
Another tool at your disposal is our Intimacy Melts. You can insert these vaginal suppositories 30 to 60 minutes before sexual activity to help ease discomfort and enhance arousal. With the melts on board, you can be ready to try vaginal penetration with less fear if the mood strikes you. If not, no harm, no foul!
When To See Your Doctor
Painful sex can happen to anyone, but if you're experiencing recurrent or excruciatingly painful intercourse, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor for a pelvic exam. They can help you rule out any physical issues triggering your pain or order any additional testing you may need to find the cause.
Your healthcare provider or gynecologist may also want to refer you to an integrative pelvic floor physical therapist. Pelvic floor PT focuses on identifying and treating the symptoms of pelvic floor muscle disorders and dysfunctions, which can impact as many as one in four people.
You’ll work with your physical therapist to develop a customized treatment plan that can help reduce your symptoms and make sex more comfortable. It can also help stop the pesky urinary leakage issue many of us deal with, especially after vaginal birth.
Painful sex will happen to most people at some point in their lives. Knowledge is power; learning more about what may be causing sex to hurt can help you counteract it.
After all, you deserve hot, fulfilling, pleasurable sex just as much as everyone else does, and we’d love to help you make it happen. Don’t put up with an unsatisfying or painful sex life for even one minute longer.
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